Bipolar Supporter? Sometimes You Just Need One


Hope you’re doing ok.

I got this comment on one of my posts recently, and wanted to share it with you, because it is the reason I chose what I did for today’s topic:

“Dear Dave, I love my husband very much,

I just want you to know that. But I just can’t

stand the way he acts sometimes! During

episodes is the worst, but even in between

episodes, it’s like he’s this changed person –

not the man I married. Bipolar Disorder seems

to have taken over his whole life.

Even when he’s not in an episode, he’s obsessing over when

his next one will be. I’ve tried to be a good

supporter and a good wife, I really have. But his

moods change so much, and I never know what

to expect. The unpredictability of the mood swings

and episodes is really getting to me. I’ve been

waiting a long time for my husband to get better,

but he just doesn’t seem like he’ll ever be what you

call high functioning, or even stable. Help! I just

need a break from him and his bipolar disorder.

Is that wrong? Dianne”


Ok, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first:

You know I’m not a doctor or any other professional, so I can’t give advice on those terms – I can only offer suggestions and opinions based on my experience and the experiences that other supporters have shared with me.

First of all, bipolar disorder does change a person. It can influence both their thoughts and their behavior. And, unfortunately, it’s a fact that with the disorder do come mood swings and episodes.

We don’t know by her email what her husband is like during episodes, but we can imagine.

In my courses/systems, I go over every symptom of a bipolar episode (both manic and depressive), so I won’t go into them here.







But many supporters do get frustrated and even angry when their loved one doesn’t seem to be

getting better.

At times, from the people I’ve talked to, pretty much every supporter gets to a “boiling-over” point like this woman in the email.

Well, sometimes you just need a break.

It’s hard to deal with bipolar disorder 24/7 and expect yourself to be the perfect super supporter

all the time.

The good news is that you don’t have to be.

You CAN take a break.

In fact, many supporters regularly take breaks from their loved one and their bipolar disorder.

And they feel no guilt, because they do it as a part of self-care. Necessary self-care.

But let’s go back to this woman’s email for a bit.

She says, first of all, that she loves her husband but can’t stand the way he acts sometimes.

That’s normal for a supporter of a loved one with bipolar disorder.

Loving the person and hating their behavior are two different things.

That’s why I preach about separating your loved one from their disorder.

You can still love them, but hate the disorder (which causes the unacceptable behavior).

When she says, “…it’s like he’s this changed person – not the man I married,” she is expressing

something that many supporters also express when their loved one is diagnosed later in life.

If you let it, bipolar disorder CAN take over your whole life (like she says in the email). However, you can also choose not to let it.

You need to do things outside of the disorder. I would tell this woman to do some of the things

that they did together before the bipolar disorder “took over his life,” and try to regain the relationship the way it was (as much as possible).

Bipolar disorder is not a death sentence! It’s just a mental illness. It can be managed.

And stability IS possible, if your loved one does the work to reach it. You can’t do it for them, either – they have to do it for themselves.

When she says, “Even when he’s not in an episode, he’s obsessing over when his next one will be,” well, many people go through that as well, although it is only a lesson in futility.

The “normal” times in between episodes should be enjoyed while you can. Yes, there will most

likely be a next episode at some point, but waiting around for it to happen is a waste of precious time.

Then she says that she doesn’t think her husband will ever become high functioning, or

even stable.

Well, he won’t, unless he does what he needs to in order to gain stability, and there is nothing in her letter that states that he is doing that.

And she ends the email with, “Help, I just need a break from him and his bipolar disorder. Is that


In my opinion, NO, it is not wrong.

Sometimes you do just need a break.

Have you felt like this woman?

What did you do? Did you take a break?

Do you think she is wrong for wanting to take a break?

  1. To Suzanne: Thankyou for the info. I will pray with you. It is a harsh reality. Thanks Suzanne, I appreciate you. Jeannie

  2. In the letter I just read. She does not say whether her husband is on medication or not. I did not see the end of the tunnel till I went to my doctor and worked on medication till I found the right one. It took years but I’n finally there, at least for the time being. I also did my stint with the therapist.

  3. I, to, wonder if I will ever see my beautiful daughter out of this horrible depression. Although the depresseion is easier to physically help her manage, it seems to be emotionally tearing me apart. She is not mean or angry or agressive or anything; just flat, lacking expression, isolating & having no motivation. Her Pdoc. is still searching for the right combo of meds and I think we are getting there. I am just so very impatient to have my best friend back. We have seen her thru one suicide attempt and try as I might not to, I find myself waiting for the next one. I find it very difficult to “trust” her safety to her. We continue to encourage her to re-connect with her many friends who regularly call her with no response. They are also not giving up on her. Hopefully she will come into the light long enough to see and take to heart how very much she is loved by so many people and will find it easier to be social again. We all “miss” her so much.

  4. I totally understand and agree it is not wrong to take a break. I have a son (22 yrs.)schizophrenic/bi-polar,but doesn’t think so,any way, my husband of 17yrs. has recently told me to chose between the two.He’s tired of dealing with it!My heart is broken, i hope things get better for you and your husband, god bless you!

  5. Your mind can never take a break….until you are so worn out that the mind will just do in automatically.
    Your heart can NEVER take a break.

    But you must let your mind rest and deal with the disorder when you are rested and able to do so.

    Good article. Thanks again

  6. Hi there. I have a husband who works as an attorney in a fairly high profile firm in town. He is well respected there. He appears charming from a pblic stance, but is evil personified during his outbursts at home. In fact, he has convinced others that my children and myself are the problem. His behavior towards myself and the children are reprehensible. He takes three medications for his anger moods and does not take them as prescribed. He appears to have symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder. He has ruined our finances, our intimacy is non existent. I want to leave, but have few options.

    Any suggestions?

  7. Semantics and Professional Ignorance. Believe me I take a great deal of interest in your e-mails and not faulting you for any of your efforts, thank you. Thanks for being there and helping those who want help.

    My problem is with those who want help and are being misdirected by semantics and professional ignorance. From what I understand today’s bipolar disorder is yesterdays manic depressive. It wasn’t to many years ago we didn’t even know what PMS was, for whatever that is worth. I believe that bipolar disorder comes in varying degrees of severity and other mental issues can cloud the situation and it isn’t the actual diagnosis of the situation, but the treatment that is important. It’s not like where you are pregnant or not that determines the course of treatment. Mental illness is a barrel full of fancy catch phrases and God help the individual who has multiple problems. Too many times the individuals individual symptoms are worked on and they never are able to diagnose the problem or put the proper name on the problem.

    I have found that the advice you give for bipolar disorder would be just as good for those that haven’t received that label. Your advice is a way of life or standard that people can follow to help them cope with everyday reality which they haven’t been able to cope with. It is guidance for those that are still floundering trying to get better but are part of the revolving door agenda of some of the professionals that are out there. The typical agenda is one where we devote a session and prescribe a pill to try and fix a symptom. The patient thinks this is going to fix his or her problem and continues to live a life that is causing the problem. They need something to guide them, they have to be willing to try and help themselves and seek a better life. Even God can do only so much. I really don’t think the label is that important due to the degrees of severity and the hybrid problems that one can get into. Mental illness is like snowflakes, there are no two alike. I don’t care what you call it, the treatments may be different but your advice and agenda still fit if they will only listen and want to help themselves. Keep up the good work

    As Always,

    Donald D. Douglas

  8. HI davy….
    Ye this woman needs a brake shes probs worn out. And maybe the partner could do with one, he could well be burnt out. Take a brake……..
    Take Care Linda X

  9. I lived with my husbands bipolar disorder for 20 years. The best advise we ever got was when I was speaking to his doctor about his self distructive behavior…The doctor said “Jim, you need to remember you are mentally ill, not mentally retarded” We talked about my husband taking responsibility for his own illness and how important it was to not confuse bad habits and learned dependant behavior with the actual symptoms of his illness….it helped us a lot.

  10. I can relate to this woman. I sounds like my story. The problem is – my husband will say I can “do something” with someone, but then makes me feel guilty because he’s sitting at home alone (he has NO friends). One minute he tells me I should stay at work to earn overtime and in the next breath he is mad because I’m gone so long and he’s alone and then when I get home I’m exhausted. He gets aggrivated when I want to go to bed at 10:00 to get a good sleep for the next day. (my job is physical and tiring). Very frustrating.!

  11. The reality of the situation of having bipolar disorder, is that…we can NEVER take a “break” from its insidious condition. I can no more say “I’m tired of being bipolar – I think I’ll take a break, and be normal for awhile.” Like Dianne’s husband, though I’m stable and high-functioning NOW, I DO keep looking over my shoulder for the NEXT episode. I’m one DRUG or situation away from having one, or being hospitaliized.

    I appreciate what you say about the Supporter taking a break. THAT is VERY important, so they DON’T “burn out” and can be the very BEST supporter of their loved one that they can be. Develop a hobby, go out for coffee with your friends, read a book in the tub, ANYTHING to get away from the all-consuming PRESENCE of bipolar in your loved one. You MUST do this for your OWN sanity.

    Right now, I’m afraid of one of my doctors changing my meds because of my incessant dizziness. This, in and of itself, CAN lead to an episode. I’m going to try to get a second opinion from another psychiatrist as to which meds need to be tweaked. But – I’m afraid of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and leading to something I DON’T want to happen.

    BIG HUGS to all bipolar survivors and those who love us. May God bless you real good. I pray for my country.

  12. Hi, David.
    Thanks for email me. and I just feel definitely like her, my husband acts the same,,, He dosen’t even know he has bipolar disorder, he’s almost 40 years old and never got a doctor for his ploblem. Im pretty sure he has bipolar disorder becouse for a long time i been trying lookingfor what is wrong with him. Sure im not a professionel to confirm that. but has all this symthoms…. I love my husband so much. I need help how to get him into a doctor (sorry for my english) the problem is i dont have money to get your books and deal/know about supporting your loved one’s.

    anyway thanks for everything.
    God Bless you.

  13. I am the BiPolar..I have a wonderful husband who works with me. I am on meds. I also have epilepsy that is tied into BiPolar. This makes my BiPolar even more difficult. I also have Diabetes and Post Tramatic Stress Disorder from the first Marriage.

    You do need breaks. I even needs breaks from my supporter. However, the lady with the lawyer for a husband..DO NOT TAKE HIS ABUSE!!! No one should take abuse. Get out take all information on his condition with you and his med info. Take children with you. There are organizations that will help you.

  14. Hi,, well i sympathize with you!
    One thing my BP some oes is not eat!1 And this sets off low blood sugar, and a big crash and an episode. He is awful at self care. I think he does not understand how much his sugar addication and bi-polar episodes effect each other.He is also OCD, and does the same stressing out about what may be!!It is a madhouse cycle .
    I say to him ” you need to go and eat something, and then we can talk about this again in 20 minuets if your feeling the same way” and as a rule, he will settle down. He is 23.
    He is always wanting to go to the Phyc ward in the midst of an episode. He has illusions that they have a magic bullet there that will defuse things.
    He is awful about taking his meds. But the biggest correlation to date is the poor nutrition, and hypoglocimia. Protien i long standing forms is best. Eggs ,Cheese, dairy, grains, meat if your a lover.
    I know how i get when i am low on blood sugar, i feel like blowing a wobbly. I try and tell him to protect himself befor an event, like SHOPPING. the overstimulating super markets are horrid. to many choices, too many people, just too much ovf everyhting.

    Hang in there!!
    I now present food to him, i no longer say, you have to make something to eat, i just hand him food and say EAT. If not, dont come and whine to me about symptoms,
    If your not part of the solution, your part of the problem.
    and BP have to take responsiblity for their part of being active in their( THEIR) recovery and well being. Dontl let them push it all onto you!
    Be strong, i know its hard, i dreally do.
    But my come and see me in 20 min- is a good rule, and it also allows me time to get ready for the assult, if i can see it comeing , i can clam mself, be more pro- active , and best of all, i have a chance to remind myself, that the episode will end.

    peace by peice

  15. My situation is different to the lady in the email. My loved one is my boyfriend and not my husband and we don’t live together. Also he was diagnosed with bipolar about 10 years ago and we have only known each other just over 2 years. I did not know him before he was diagnosed. Last year I helped him through a very bad episode and 6 weeks in the psych ward. Everything went back to what we knew as normal for a while. He went through a depression in the winter and came out of it in the spring when we enjoyed a short while of normality again. Then in April he moved house and at first was very happy, but worried about getting too happy leading to another episode. His psych adjusted his meds and since May he has been in a depression again. Then a couple of weeks ago he told me he was “not good enough for me” and didn’t want a relationship anymore because he “couldn’t make me happy.” Since then I have been depressed and very upset. He sees plenty of his fairweather friends, but is pushing me away and avoiding me. We have been through so much together. I love him so much and I know he still loves me. He doesn’t want my support and wants to battle through this alone. I know I have to leave him be for now and hope and pray that he will see sense and come back when he is out of the depression. Even his psych said I was very good for him. Right now I am very sad.

  16. Dear Dave,
    I concur with all that youvre been saying here today: last week my daughter ( who has BP) had one of her downers, combined with a pretty brisk anger going on; instead of joining her( misery likes company) and as I started to get up a head of steam I stopped – I sorted out that I was OK and what I needed to do right then and there was to take a little break, so off I went to my sister’s for a coffee a sit in the sun and a natter for a couple of hours. When I got home my daughter asked me what was wrong and I told her – her behaviour had been pretty horrid for a few days( Rachel can say pretty horrible things when she is feeling out of sorts) and I needed to take a break before I exploded. suffice to say the little mini break worked I came back home refreshed and calm : The first thing for me ( at the beginning of a disagreement is to gauge my own health so I ask myself one question Am I OK? And if the answer is no I need to separate myself from the situation until I am OK. I try very hard to address each situation as truthfully as possible (Rachel’s continued trust in me is at stake here) , and if I can’t or I feel my objectivity is faltering I need to leave the area until I can.
    thanks for that from your doctor to your husband about him being mentally unwell not mentally retarded

  17. Hi Dave,you been sending me e-mails ad for sometime thank you much just now i am taking the time to read what families of bipolar disorer deal with their love ones. My son was diagnosed with severe bipolar disorer last year. He has been stable for almost 7 months and lately does not want to take his medication daily.I am a firm believer that agreeing with him would not be the best solution for his illness but rather i keep an open communication with him by telling how well he has been doing this year with his new medication and that going through another year of what he gone through last year when he was hospitalized for three days and couple of mania episodes set him on a roller coaster of negative behaviors because he would not cooperate in taking his medication. Without medication i explained to him would set-him back from his education career as he has big plans for himself in obtaining a bachelor degree in criminal justice. I described it in a simple manner for him to understand how important is for him to see the doctor for a health check up during the year and the importance of a health background when looking to work in criminal justice.I keep the communication as a matter of fact rather than a big deal if he thinks otherwise and that seems to work for me. Hope this work for others God Bless us!Anna

  18. yes Dave, i can really relate to this person because i hqave experienced all of the same things. I love my husband but sometimes its really hard to be “in love with him”. there are so many times that i feel like i have another child to care for. In addition to the bi-polar my husband is diabetic, and has severe sleep apnea. so he needs a lot of care. Its hard for me to get a long break but i really enjoy when i go to work because that is my break. i can’t leave him for long becauae he needs to be reminded to take care of hisself. i also have 2 disabled children who need me so i don’t get much of a break. so i have learned to accept the bad times and enjoy the good. when my husband sees how good things are when he is doing well and taking his meds and trying to get better it encourages him to do it more. then he gets a little better. the old saying about taking things one day at a time is the best attitude to have. work through the bad and enjoy the good.

  19. Well welcome to the BP world. The one I am married to is currently in down side. Speaks only when spoken to. Gets up to eat and then sits and sleeps while I try to keep up the homeplace. We just got off of a 4 month high, and all most let him talk me into selling our home moveing to another state, and crap it just goes on and on. But I finally told him I can’t do this right now and I will be back in a week. I had to cut my losses and decide ..If I stay we will argure oveer fianances and anything else that I don’t agree with ,which in in his high side is about everything, and if my own sanity is worth staying here. I was ready to blow or get myself admitted for a break. Also don’t expect to much support from family when they are in high side. They avoid like a plague. Mine do anyway becasue he tries to control everybody and everything…They don’t want in the middle of it. It is a circus! Or can become dangerous. You must know your limits and the BP limits you are dealing with. Are they having halliucinations or just not thinking clearly. Me I get sick and tired of trying to one step ahead. The banking the money being safe at all times and having a back up plan. But that is how we live. Sometimes he is VERY ok, not often . Mostly depresssed. He is on a 7 yr cycle. but rapid cylces for months during episode. You have to decide what is best for you. I have days and say why am I still here? Is life better for me if I get out? And then with no clear answer I continue on.Becasue I know he will not survive without me long term. But YES you Do need to take a break!!

  20. Hello Dave,
    Responding to the remarks by the “I love my husband very much” lady, I also would like to to express my experience of the impossibility of some situations – it concerns people with bipolar disorder who will not stop drinking. They don’t even have to be drinking heavily, so most of the time one does not even know that they have any alcohol in them (and they drink slyly). But the result is that they are literally in a daily mood swing. Today the are have some alcohol in them and are euphoric, but tomorrow the havn’t been able to sneek off for a little drink, so they get on to their medication in double doses at the first sign of the onset of deprssion and then there goes the mood swing again in the opposite direction. In these situations they use their medication as a type of crutch to counter the alcohol withdrawal AND they will not stop with the alcohol! They see themselves as nothing more than social drinkers and maybe they are nothing more than that, BUT for a person with bipolar disorder on medication, they CANNOT be allowed to touch alcohol under any circumstances. Its terrible to say this, but if they cannot be dissauded from drinking altogether (even only socially) then they have no hope. They are lost because their help will desert them eventually and they will continue to believe their own lie, viz. that they are only social drinkers until they become tramps on the street. Nobody tell their supporters this and most of the time their poor supporters are totally confused because they don’t understand what the hell is going on.

  21. We have been taught over and over, regardless of the professional, that it is NOT the diagnosis that matters, it is the behavior that is the problem. And once I was able to really understand that, it was not the bipolar but rather the alcoholism, the unmanaged anger and outbursts and the narcissism. All mostly behavioral traits of mismanaged bipolar but until the behavorior is recognized as destructive, and treated without denial, no pill will help. Or rather, the behavior problems and medication go hand in hand. You can’t do one without the other. A “program” for managing bipolar includes managing emotional expressions that are destructive and abusive. And yes, we have taken a break. A longer break than I thought we were originally going to take but there was alot of healing for us as supporters involved because of our special person with bipolar refuses to manage his illness (bipolar) properly and manage the behavior problems properly. We also learned 3 other things through al-anon. We didn’t cause it. We can’t change it and we can’t cure it. The 3 c’s. Learning these has been a huge help because we had been leading a horse to water but he refused to drink!! We tried for so long and then we just got burned out.

  22. In response to this article…..absolutely not. You deserve a break to keep yourself sane when your husband’s world starts to fall apart. Take care of yourself first, and only then will you be of any help to him when his next episode hits. Go get a pedicure and a manicure it lifts one’s spirts.

  23. I found this website yesterday and am grateful for your experience, strength and hope. I have a dear friend, a young man, who I’ve become incredibly close to. Its a rather complicated story. I am friends with his parents, he recently went through a divorce, lost his job and was in deep depression. I knew him as a child and hadn’t seen him for years. When he came to our prayer group he and I connected like long lost friends. It has been the most awesome friendship ever! I and his parents knew something was not quite right with him but he has such a beautiful heart we focused mostly on that. To make a long story short and get to my current point.. we realize he has many s&s of bipolar 2 d/o. I am a psych nurse and didn’t recognize this for a year, even though he lived in my home and I spent a great deal of time with him. Last week, I had to ask him to leave because it was hurting me too much, emotionally. He makes commitments to do something with me, but if someone else came along he pushes our plans aside or acts like he didn’t know we had plans. This has been happening more and more in the past months. I finally reached a breaking point. But now, of course I hear nothing from him because this is how he punishes those who love him. He vanishes and won’t return phone calls and no one knows where he is. Those of us who care about him miss him terribly and feel treated like trash and forgotten, his love turned off while he finds someone else to take advantage of.
    Please share with me how to get through this part of the pain. Although he was not my husband or lover, he was the man in my life and in my home and I miss him terribly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *